Liberate Liberation from Liberation Day

The one the reasons why so many scholars, activists and often times community members feel the need to rethink or rearticulate or reimagine "Liberation Day" is because of a recognition of hope integral it is or has been to our relationship to the US.

World War II changed dramatically the relationship between the Chamorus of Guam and the US. It changed it somewhat from the US perspective, but it was dramatically altered from the Chamoru side of the equation. Chamorus who felt a clear distance to their colonizer, even if some were eager to be patriotic, prior to the war, emerged from the war eager to find whatever way possible to express their loyalty, their newfound attachment to America.

But as I've written many times before, what Liberation Day does as the basis for Chamoru identity in an American context, is create the Chamoru as a subordinate subject, a minor footnote, that must always be superpatriotic for fear that America will withdraw funds, support, recognition and anything else. The Chamoru is weak locally as a result, but gains strength as it moves further away from its culture and language and is subsumed and erased within the US melting pot. 

But it didn't have to be this way, and it still doesn't have to be this way. 

The concept of Liberation itself is something lost in the war, or at least distorted to only be recognizable within an American framework and the war experience. The Chamoru is liberated from Japanese oppression, but not liberated in any larger way. The Chamoru was colonized before the war and remains colonized after, liberation notwithstanding. 

That is why so many people seek to redefine the day and the terms. The liberation of the Chamoru people and of Guam still awaits. Not just one from Japanese occupation, but a deeper liberation from centuries of colonial dominance and indifference. But in order to get people there, you first have to disconnect the notion of freedom and the basis for future possibility as being dependent upon the US, in the past or today. Not freedom from the Japanese to be subsumed within the US, but a more general sense of freedom in the world. 

The true liberation awaits through decolonization, as I like to say. 


Plea made for a different type of Liberation Day
By Bruce Lloyd
Pacific Daily News
August 31, 2019

A crowd of academics and local history buffs gathered at the University of Guam Saturday morning for the two-day 4th Marianas History Conference.

In her keynote speech, University of Minnesota associate professor and Yigo native Christine Taitano DeLisle said the Guam Liberation Day celebration traditional since World War II needs a rethink, emphasizing CHamoru survival of the war rather than loyalty to the Americans who re-took the island.

DeLisle was inspired by her study of unpublished writings by Agueda Johnston, a revered Guam educator and community figure for many decades, who is often remembered for both her staunch patriotism and for her role in harboring the American Navy radioman George Tweed during the occupation of Guam in World War II. 

DeLisle said that Johnston tried to be both American and CHamoru.

“She would sign letters, ‘Guamanian Chamorro by birth, but American patriot by choice.'" 

DeLisle studied unpublished writings of Johnston, which Johnston called her "Chamorrita notes."

“As many of you know, (Johnston) was the mastermind behind Liberation Day, but what some of you may not know is that Johnston’s original intention for Liberation Day was really for it to be a fiesta and a procession in honor of Santa Marian Kamalen for looking out for the CHamorus," DeLisle said. 

Johnston's original intention became co-opted in the 1950s, DeLisle said.  

DeLisle doesn't deny the popularity of the Liberation Day Parade and she notes that Santa Marian Kamalen is honored with a popular procession, but she would like to see a rethinking of the parade.

“What would it mean to adopt loyalty as a theme, but loyalty to others as well as to Americans, a loyalty that's steeped in agradesi and being grateful, but is no longer beholden to making sacrifices, really big sacrifices?" she asked.

Growing up in Yigo, she was once princess from the village in the 1981 Liberation Day Queen contest. She recalls specific instructions to smile and look particularly grateful to the veterans and military escorts.

"When I think back to when I was a Yigo Liberation Day Princess, I think about the discrepancy between the fun at the village, the raffles, the excitement of making the float — I think we won that year — and the nervousness of appearing with our assigned military escorts all the time. That was really awkward to me. I mean, I was asked to be grateful to a stranger," she said.

"In the village, it was more about celebrating CHamoru survival. This is the real stuff of Liberation Day to me. When I think back, it would have made more sense to be with my mother or my grandmother or an auntie who lent an extra set of hands during the march to Manengon, who was holding my mother. It would have made more sense," she said.


False Belief in Guam Liberation Became an Article of Faith

by George Estaquio

August 30, 2020

Pacific Daily News

Your excellent article: “Guam battlefields and memorials: Take a history tour on Liberation Day” quotes the Guam Island Command war diary:

“The Japanese eventually abandoned Manengon and on Aug. 1, 1944, Americans took over the Manengon concentration camp, turning it into a refugee camp.

“An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 civilians remained on both sides of the Ylig River.

“When the Japanese left the camp, the natives, except a very few sick and aged who could not be carried, and a few relatives who remained behind to care for them, left for the American lines in Agat and Agana.”

Samuel Eliot Morison in his book, “New Guinea and the Marianas,” notes that in the July 1944 campaign dubbed “Forager,” the commander-in-chief Pacific intended Guam to be forward logistical base and staging area for B-29s bombing of Japan. “Furthermore we intended to keep them after the war is won.”

Nothing in the war diary quoted in your piece or in Morison’s account fits the definition of liberation. And yet for 76 years, federal and Guam officials and mayors and some academic type continue to spew the false narrative of July 21, 1944, as a military operation to relieve the CHamoru from Japanese oppression and occupation.

And turning the Manengon concentration camp into a refugee camp was like returning the Nazi’s prison survivors back to Auschwitz!

It’s proper to honor the servicemen who died on the beaches and boondocks during the recapture of Guam and on the road to Tokyo.

The Guam Liberation Day celebration was insinuated into Guam’s annual social commemorations and has wide public acceptance. Since 1946, and every year thereafter, village debutantes parade Marine Corps Drive on July 21, brandishing the “Guam Liberation Day” sash.

This false belief in the Guam liberation became an article of faith regardless of its historical foundation or lacked thereof. The “Guam liberation” is a misnomer and an overworked term. The real truth about the Guam liberation is closer to what was described in the Guam Island Command war diary. I was in the arena and able to distinguish between what were the facts and what was fiction.

The purpose here is not to continually beat on the proverbial dead horse. But truth matters. And the truth of the matter is that for 70-plus years, there has been insufficient focus on the real liberation that gave the people of Guam true freedom from 50 years of oppressive U. S. Navy administrative regime.

The passage by Congress and the signing of the Organic Act of Guam in 1950 by President Harry S. Truman conferred American citizenship and provided the people of Guam with not just the semblance, like the Guam Congress, but the substance of an American form of government that is democratic and worthy of annual observance.

Douglas W. Domenech, assistant secretary of Insular and International Affairs at the Department of Interior enumerated the millions of federal grants and the military protection benefiting Guam, in the Aug. 2 Pacific Daily News.

True, our military on Guam provides an umbrella of protection, but it also exposes the island’s residents to assured retaliation. And while federal largess is indeed beneficial to Guam, Domenech needs to be reminded that one-third of the island’s confiscated CHamoru lands are serving the nation’s security interests, not to mention the hundreds of men and women from Guam who are serving our country in uniform.

The Guam-federal relationship is a shared sacrifice, but also mutually beneficial.

George C. Eustaquio is a resident of Frederick, Maryland,


Painting over the Chamoru Experience No Longer Acceptable

by Andrew Gumataotao

June 1, 2020

Pacific Daily News

Since the late 1940s, after the end of World War II, the people of Guam and the Northern Marianas have celebrated Liberation Day. Although traditional festivities will not go on as planned, we are learning how to readjust and to manage what many people have been calling “the new normal.”

Although I agree with this to a certain extent, I don’t think this phrase adequately describes the possibilities our island community has carved out for ourselves. In many ways we are returning to the land and waters and we are reminded that when times are tremendously difficult, we best not be strangers to it.

From the frontliners to church parking lots, we are determined to pull through and maintain our relationships with one another.

In this time when we are uncomfortable, it can lead us to reflect on how we give and receive respect. How we imagine safety and security at all levels that affect us.

This past year our manamko’ have received their long overdue recognition of their hardships during World War II via the War Claims Act but we have also simultaneously taken to the streets on Marine Corps Drive, another act of claiming if you will, to demonstrate that the CHamoru people of Guam have the right to hold our destiny within our hands. I remember my father telling me that my Tata used to live where Marine Corps Drive now sits.

Today we understand that Liberation Day honors the soldiers who stormed our shores and gave so much, but what has emerged into focus is that we have never given up the acclaims of our manaina, they have sacrificed and have searched for too long to be recognized on the same parity of esteem withheld from them before, and whether they have assumed a uniform or not should not pit us against each other.

Painting over the CHamoru experience is no longer acceptable and we are bearing witness to how our island needs serious participation with the instruments of power that reside elsewhere.

The unearthing of our ancestor’s resistance and resilience has taken form in so many ways. They have not only survived incredible hardships from a war not of their own making, but they have raised and uplifted our community and remain here on this land and sea.

As we find our way to commemorate our history this July, whether it be within our individual households, or an online thoroughfare in lieu of a parade, what I hope is not glossed over are the profound ways in which we are returning, re-remembering, and envisioning our future as recipients of our ancestor’s sacrifices.

Hasso’ tatte ya un atan mo’na.

Andrew Gumataotao is a resident of Hagåtña.


A Liberation Day Reflection

by Laura Souder

Guam Daily Post

July 26, 2020

July 21st marked the 76th year, since the people of Guam were liberated from Japanese occupation by boatloads of U.S. Marines and other military personnel who fought hard. Thousands died on our shores in 1944.

Vying for world power, Japan and the United States seized our fragile islands in the Pacific to engage in their battles. Unfortunately, our land was blown up, our people were stripped of their dignity, tortured and beheaded, our families were forever scarred by rampant rapes, desecration of sacred sites and strategic divisive tactics pitting Chamorus against Chamorus in the Marianas which manifest even to this day.

Notwithstanding that backdrop, it is completely understandable why Tun Pete Rosario’s song, “Uncle Sam, Sam, Oh Dear Uncle Sam Won’t You Please Come Back to Guam” was a true sentiment of our people caught in the crosshairs of a war not of their making. Those of us, who were born after World War II, can never fully comprehend “i tiempon CHapanes yan i tiempon gera.”

Our family members who lived through these atrocities have been reticent to talk about their experiences until just recently. They really believed, that by remaining silent, we their children and grandchildren would be spared the suffering and pain they endured. Little did they know that we would absorb the confusion, contradictions and disappointments that political betrayal and denial of the right to self-determination would bring.

I don’t think they could ever have imagined that their own sons and daughters would, as vets, wander lost and confused in Guam’s streets, homeless; or, the aftereffects of other wars that their children and grandchildren have fought in distant lands as proud members of the U.S. Armed Forces; or, that their children and grandchildren would suffer PTSD, emotional illness, domestic violence, sexual abuse, drug addictions and stress related conditions, diseases, incarceration, divorce and suicide at such abnormal, disproportionate rates. Imagine the betrayal my generation felt, upon discovering that there was no military strategic objective tied to the total destruction of Hagåtña by American bombers.

You might be wondering why I have to be such a party-pooper. Why bring all this up now? Why spoil the celebrative nature of “Liberation Day” festivities? Why rain on our parade? Why?

Because there are two sides to this story. It is a story of survival to be sure, and I do not in any way want to undermine that. The resiliency of the human spirit in times of war is amazing. We have witnessed that firsthand in our parents and grandparents. The ingenious way our people learned to survive hunger, beatings, death and destruction is such a grand statement about the kind of cloth we are cut from as an indigenous people who have survived hundreds of years of colonization. Endurance or minesgnon is an integral part of our cultural DNA.

The other side of the story though, is the side that keeps me awake at night. It is a story of abject abuse of loyalty. Many do not know how deep the concept of loyalty runs in our psyche as CHamorus. Loyalty to the family, loyalty to the clan, loyalty to nana, loyalty to the church. Our overdeveloped or keen sense of loyalty and the ensuing responsibility and obligations have been drilled into our heads and hearts since we were tiny tots. This is how we, as CHamorus, view the world and relationships in it. To shun our loyalty, to take it for granted, to trivialize it cuts a wound so deep, it is hard to imagine what healing would look like.

That is why I am profoundly conflicted by days like “Liberation Day”. Not because I don’t respect the celebration of survival. Not because I don’t respect the release of our people from concentration camps and the cruel occupation and oppression of the Japanese Imperial Forces. Not because I am unthankful for the Marines and Naval forces that stormed the beaches of Asan and Piti that freed our people from bondage. But because seventy-six years is ‘obba skoba’ enough time to demand delivery on the promise of self-determination. Let’s get it done


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